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Rational Fears.

(Written May 20th. Context not available due to lack of real life experience) 

Because I’m in control of my life,
and sharks terrify me,
I’ve declared I’ll never go in the ocean.

The thought of bobbing up and down
alone, on the surface of the water
and those prehistoric teeth rising out of the depths
and devouring me
is a terrifying enough thought
to keep me on land forever.

I always wonder,
when I see videos of shark attacks,
if those people thrashing around
in that kool-aid colored water
ever considered
the complete statistical impossibility
of being eaten by a shark indoors.

They didn’t. Those drowning limbless fools.

Because I’m in control of my life,
I’ve also declared that I’m not going in the woods.

The image of wandering upon a grizzly
and desperately trying to reason with it
as it descends upon me
with razor claws
is just too much to … bear.

Grizzlies don’t wander downtown streets.
Neither do wolves,
or mountain lions,
or bees.

Man, I hate bees.

I’m in control of my life,
and I won’t be killed by any of them
because of the careful choice I’ve made
to stay in well populated urban areas.

The thing is… people scare me too.
They’re unpredictable.
They carry diseases
and can stab you at any point.

So clearly,
the safest thing is to just stay in my room
while I think of all the possible deaths
I’ve narrowly avoided
by remaining
in control.

A Serious Nerd Event

Okay, now that I lost everyone’s attention with a post blathering about a new game that even my hardcore nerd friends won’t play, it’s time for a very special announcement.

I’m attending the GSL Season 2 Finals next weekend. 

For the uninitiated, that’s the biggest Starcraft league in Korea. I’ve been meaning to go by the studio since I got here, but they’ve only had team games up until this point. The finals won’t be in the regular studio, they’ll be at some other (larger) venue. This will definitely be the biggest Starcraft related event during my time in Korea.

I haven’t been following the GSL related news, but I’m pretty sure there all of the Zergs and all of the foreigners have been knocked out, so I can’t cheer for my race in either sense of the word.

Still, I’m sure it’ll be cool. I intend to take plenty of pictures and come back with a nice juicy blog post on the subject for you. Also, that’s the weekend Diablo III comes out, so naturally you’ll hear some nerd babble on that. Mieville’s new book comes out then too, so if you don’t hear from me for several months, blame all of those things.

See you soon for a GSL report! Then I’ll get back to writing about life in Korea once I emerge from my coma and start living life in Korea again.

A Valley Without Wind

No, the title is not a complex metaphor for modern life in Korea or some such shit. I’ve decided to take one post’s worth of time out of both of our days to talk about A Valley Without Wind, which is a game I’ve been playing while eagerly awaiting Diablo III. It’s a new release from Arcen Games, the company behind the intimidating and impressive AI War, which was a game that I definitely admired, even if I lacked the likeminded psychopaths to play a 20 hour game with.

So what’s this Valley Without Wind thing all about? The quick pitch is this: What if Super Metroid was also Minecraft?

It’s a 2D sidescroller that has a massive procedurally generated world that is far bigger than you could ever explore (Minecraft), but it’s mostly based around finding the things you need in the right order and balancing your exploring with your combat (Metroid). It also adopts a bit of a rogue-like permadeath thing (I mention this in case the non-gamers in the audience gave up before the end of this paragraph).

So you run around, kill stuff, explore, and find things. The things you find will let you build up your settlement, which is a fairly minor part of the game, and craft upgrades for your character.The whole thing feels a little bland and simple at first, but slowly it unveils itself and you see that this game is absolutely packed with ideas. As you explore around, you unlock new abilities and whatnot, but you also unlock new mission types, enemy types, and places to visit. It seems overly simplistic at first, but there are many secrets to discover and things to learn. As you complete missions and kill large amounts of monsters, the enemies “level up” around you, forcing you to keep pace and keeping you from getting too comfortable. It’s entirely nonlinear, too. You can even go to the big boss’ stronghold right away if you like, though that’s a bit like trying to fight Lavos while you’re still at the Millenial Fair (With the non-gamers totally gone, that was a safe joke).

I found myself getting more and more intrigued as I spent time with this game. It has multiplayer support, but I haven’t tried it yet. It’s also constantly getting patched. The game has changed rather drastically several times (for the better) even in the short time I’ve been playing it. 

The only real note of warning is that the game looks like absolute ass. This isn’t even a Minecraft or Terraria type “charming retro graphics” thing. It just looks bad. Some of the textures in the indoor areas, in a few rare cases, are borderline headache inducing. Your character looks pretty damn uninteresting and the enemy designs are at times pretty questionable.

This is the Dwarf Fortress design philosophy (yup, bye non-gamers!). It seems the developer accepted the idea of crude graphics to put all their effort into just making the gameplay as juicy as possible, with the constant updates only improving things as they go along. 

It’s by no means a must buy, but it’s always evolving towards something better than it is. If any of this intrigues you, you might want to check it out.

I’ll be back to my regular Korea silliness next time!🙂

So Kev, how’s The Avengers?

Well, let me tell you about The Avengers.

The short version: If you’re there, and you know why you’re there, you will absolutely have a lot of fun with this movie.

Oh, but you need the long version, don’t you.

Over the years leading up to this film, I’ve felt a looming sense of dread and anxiety. Let’s face it, all the movies leading up to it are mediocre at best. I’ve consistently bet hard against this movie and said that it’ll take a miracle to even come close to working. You know what though? It mostly does… and I hate being wrong about this shit.

I’m not going to really spoil the plot or get into incredible detail discussing it. It’s a decent and fairly workable plot. It’s very much an origin story. All the characters get their chance to shine, with many great comedic moments and a few genuine surprises. The whole thing functions like a fast paced action extravaganza with a good sense of humour throughout.

Does it lose some of its character depth along the way? Only a little. Is the villain’s plan more of a nebulous excuse to have all the heroes get together and fight something? Yes. Does it raise philosophical questions in the first half that it is too busy blowing stuff up in the second to answer? Yup.

Wait a minute… this whole thing sounds like I’m describing the JJ Abrams Star Trek movie! Yes, exactly. It’s kinda like that.

(An easy comparison to the Star Trek film designed to piss off fans): It’s a star studded ensemble superflick that mostly serves to show us how all these characters interconnect and give them lots of action set pieces and funny scenarios to end up in. There are tons of awesome little moments and inside nerd references. For the real hardcore nerds, there will absolutely be a loss of depth and they will complain about this. Much like the Abrams Star Trek film, the sequel will most likely be way better than the original, because they’ve already established all the preliminary stuff. The bottom line is it’s just fucking FUN and it still works as a jumping on point for new viewers.

Now, when I say it loses some depth, I don’t mean that it’s a completely hollow affair. There’s no real “dumbing down” of any of the characters or plot content, it’s just that fun and crowdpleaser-ness is valued above all else. For this type of movie though, that’s absolutely fine.

The action! Let’s comment about that. Is it the slow-mo heavy Captain America movie style? The very theatrical Thor movie style? The well realized anticlimaxes of the Iron Man movie style? It’s kind of a blend of all three, minus the whole anticlimax thing. It’s closest to the Thor style overall. Rest assured though, as an action movie fan who currently hates action movies, the action is well done across the board. Yes, the laws of physics are not just stretched, but completely shattered, for both dramatic effect and convenience throughout the action sequences. I saw it in 3D, since there’s no way to not see it in 3D in this country. I’m happy to say it was pretty unobtrusive. You don’t need to go way out of your way to see it in 3D, but if you do, you’ll not be disappointed by it.

I’ve said for years that The Avengers would never work, that there was just too much to fit into one movie that will make any sense at all. I even said Mark Ruffalo would suck (he seems like every boring dad distilled down into one perfect bit of dull fatherly swill) and he ended up impressing me as David Banner. With all of the above caveats in mind, this is probably the best film that could have been produced for The Avengers. Fans will absolutely be happy and casual viewers will too.

If you haven’t seen all the films leading up to this and you’re wondering which ones are truly important… they all are. Thor is probably the most important, since the villain and one of the heroes comes from it. Captain America might actually come in second, since the major mcguffin of the film comes from his movie. Iron Man, especially Iron Man 2, is important because it introduces not only Iron Man, but Black Widow as well. Hmm, my advice is to see as many as you can, but The Incredible Hulk is pretty optional.

I had a ton of fun with this action comedy. It actually has the curious effect of making all of the other films leading up to it seem  more worthwhile. Go see it! If you’re in the right frame of mind, you’ll totally enjoy it!

Oh, and don’t sprint out of the theatre as soon as the credits start to roll, but I’m sure you know that by now…

So Kev, how’s Korea?

 

Korea’s good.

No really, it’s good. I owe you more updates than that though.

There are a couple stories, but for the most part I’ve been enjoying myself here and doing nothing particularly bloggable. It seems that the emails and the skypes back home have fallen off significantly (in both directions), since everyone is very busy this time of year and we’re all aware that I’m not too far from the end of my contract at this point. I think my plan is to come home in September, do various non university courses, traveling, and other stuff until the end of the year, and then start school in January. This sounds like the most ideal scenario to me.

Work is good. On average I have much better classes and students, which I’m quite happy about. There are constant organizational difficulties with the upper management, but it’s nothing I can’t live through. My coworkers are still a lot of fun, though nowhere near nerdy enough for my tastes.

If you’re missing me as a force in your life, then you probably need some things to be forcibly recommended to you. Here are a few of my latest obsessive loves, divided into categories, for your approval.

Games: There’s a turn based war game called “The Unity of Command”. It’s wonderful. It has all the pick up and play charm that you need, but incredible depth underneath. It’s very well designed, and the AI is a motherfucker. If you’re any type of strategy game nerd, especially one that has a love for those old war-games, absolutely check this one out.

TV: Black Mirror. It’s a British miniseries (3 episodes) created by Charlie Brooker. Each episode is a completely self contained story, almost like a modern day Twilight Zone. Listen to me, check this show out. You can watch the whole thing in no time at all, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be pissed once you finish it and realize there’s no more.

Books: China Mieville’s Railsea comes out the same day as Diablo III… I’m going to be a busy little geek. For stuff that’s out now, I’m reading The Quantum Thief. It’s a high tech heist/spy story that is absolutely overflowing with brilliant ideas. Supposedly it’s the first in a series. Book two comes out in September.

More importantly though, The Avengers comes out TODAY in South Korea. I’m going to go see it tonight, so I’m in the interesting position of being able to provide you with an early review, since you unfortunate plebs don’t get to see it until May 4th. It’s a great excuse to return to this blog, if nothing else, so I’ll be on here tomorrow giving you my thoughts on the movie.

See you then!🙂

Thou are eery

Sometimes it’s amazing how little can change when you change everything in your life. [+15 EXP and an achievement unlocked for whomever figures out the title of this post, by the way].

Oh yes, with a first sentence like that, we’re going to get into some reflective territory. Look at me, using this blog like a blog, and not just a place to post pictures and inside jokes. I’ve wanted to do this blog post for quite a while, but I think having it roughly coincide with my six month anniversary here is about right. If you want your normal irregularly scheduled silliness, come back on the next post.

Here’s my realization: Nothing at all about my personality has changed since I got here.

I mean, I didn’t come here specifically to escape myself or to find myself or to really even discover anything new about myself, but in my catching up with several old friends (and making several new ones), I’ve noticed that I’m the same person. Creepily the same person. There has been a disturbing lack of change in my personality, outlook, and general disposition.

Hey, I could use this as my excuse for real reflective blog posts! I won’t though.

It doesn’t feel like you should be able to travel to the other side of the world, live in a foreign culture, eat wacky food, try drinking for the first time, meet new people, be constantly immersed in another language, and still be exactly the same asshole who left Canada six months ago. I feel like I’ve been just been copy-pasted from one place to another.

Sure, I’ve learned plenty of new things. I’ve definitely developed a skill for teaching, maybe even a passion for it. I know way more about Korean culture and customs. There have been many stories of both the touching and funny variety. I feel like I have quantifiably more experiences under my belt, but not like they’ve actually affected me in any meaningful way.

The words of Buckaroo Banzai finally make sense. (Obscurest reference yet on this blog?)

I should stress this once again: I didn’t come here to change anything in particular about myself, but it was definitely a weird moment of realization. I mean, just the act of coming here was a bit of a leap out of my comfort zone. Don’t people learn things about themselves on trips like this? Don’t they have bolts of inspiration and flashes of insight that compel and surprise them? Don’t they get all mature and see the world differently?

There’s one more thing I need to catch before you think it: I’m not particularly sad about this. This is more of a strange observation than anything else. I’m having a pretty great time here, on the whole. Stuff’s good. I’m happy with me; I find myself endlessly entertaining and fascinating, even if you don’t. I’m just always waiting for an unexpected bit of self discovery to happen.

And it never will. It’s like playing both sides in a chess game and hoping to surprise yourself with a winning move. It just doesn’t work that way. I feel like my personality was frozen solid five or six years ago and that nothing has really changed since then. Maybe it’s because I haven’t wanted it to, maybe it’s because I haven’t let it, or maybe it just isn’t built that way. Either way, I just realized it now, and that’s not the type of realization I was talking about wanting. Like I said though, I’m happy enough with the way things are.

At this point, I have to be.

The Intricate Rules of Korean Valentines.

So, now that I snuck that poem past you… a post! This one contains tangentially related pictures!

I arrived in this country not just a teacher who was looking to learn how to teach. I also was curious to discover the wacky culture of a strange little part of the world that I didn’t understand, so that I could report back to you. Yes, to you. I’ve already mentioned that Halloween isn’t really understood here, and that they put pumpkin on their pizza, but what does Korea think about Valentine’s Day?

Like a Facebook status, it’s complicated.

Pictured: Lunacy.

See, Korea is generally built for couples. They have cafes for couples, resorts for couples, even little stores for couples to buy matching outfits. Everywhere you go, you’ll see young Korean couples holding hands and dragging each other into DVD rooms and photo booths. Because so many Koreans live at home until they’re married (and often even after that), they need activities for couples to run around and do to occupy themselves. More importantly though, they need to constantly reemphasize their coupleyeness while doing so.

Apparently chocolate advertisement is stuck in the 1950s

So, February 14th is set up in a very specific way. On Valentine’s Day, girls give gifts to boys. Many couples do indeed exchange gifts in both directions on this day, but officially it is the day for girls to give gifts to their boyfriends or the boy they’re crushing on. I asked all my male students if they got any gifts today. Not a single one did…. buncha nerds.

When do the girls get presents then? The following month, on March 14th, a month of sweaty foreheaded nervousness, the boys reciprocate with gifts for the girls. This day is called White Day. It’s pretty much round two. I’m sure all of the restaurants pack out with couples a second time and the suicide rates get to kick up all over again. Supposedly, the boys need to give presents that are at least two to three times the value of the presents they got.

Here’s some chocolate that I got a kick out of photographing. It must be easy to be a Mad Men type guy in Korea. The slogan on this particular candy bar just literally says “it makes you feel better”.

Once again, a supreme demonstration of Korean subtlety.

Okay, so it’s twice as complicated as the Valentine’s Day I’m used to (which is already too complicated). That’s it though, right? No no no… there’s a third day. BLACK DAY.

On this most depressing of days, the single people who didn’t receive any gifts for the previous two months go to public areas and eat jajangmyeon, a noodle dish with black bean sauce. They do this to “celebrate their singleness” … IN SHAME.

Taste the sadness, Michael

This is what loneliness takes like.

Supposedly they’ll serve this at all the university campuses and all the lonely hearts are supposed to eat together and perhaps bond over being such unlovable losers. They live a rougher life than we, ’cause they’re on their own (joke for exactly one person).

It’s Black Day that interests me the most out of all of this. I imagine many romantic comedies being structured around this ridiculous concept. I’ve eaten jajangmyeon before. It’s pretty decent for a while, but I think I’m losing my taste for it. Wink.

Happy Valentine’s Day!